An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Guanzi 管子

Jul 18, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

The book Guanzi 管子 "Master Guan" is a collection of various philosophical treatises on statecraft collected in the state of Qi 齊 during the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE).

The book

The author is said to have been Guan Zhong 管仲, counsellor of Duke Huan of Qi 齊桓公 (r. 685-643). The modern version was arranged by the Han period 漢 (206 BC-220 AD) scholar Liu Xiang 劉向 and consisted of 86 chapters (pian) of which only 76 survive (of the others, only the titles are known), arranged into 8 categories. Those are:

  • 經言 Jingyan in 9 chapters
  • 外言 Waiyan in 8 chapters
  • 內言 Neiyan in 7 chapters
  • 短語 Duanyu in 17 chapters
  • 區言 Quyu in 5 chapters
  • 雜篇 Zapian 10 chapters
  • 管子解 Guanzi jie in 4 chapters
  • 管子輕重 Guanzi qingzhong in 16 chapters

Although Guan Zhong is renowned as the first Chinese legalist state philosopher the chapters of the Guanzi also deal with matters and display ideas that are traditionally attributed to Confucians or Daoist philosophy or to the Yin-Yang theory, the dialecticians, agronomists or to military theoreticians. This is also like contemporary and ancient Chinese writers from later periods received the book Guanzi. It was seen as an important writing encompassing both the Confucian ritual and the legalist order by law as bases for an effective government. It might be that the paragraphs containing other thought were added to the Guanzi only later, presumably by Liu Xiang. The chapters Lizheng 立政, Youguan 幼官, Shuyan 樞言, Dakuang 大匡, Zhongkuang 中匡, Xiaokuang 小匡 and Shuidi 水地 are rated as Guan Zhong's own teachings. Some quotations from the chapters Mumin 牧民, Shanguogui 山國軌 and Chengma 乘馬 in the books Hanfeizi 韓非子, Xinshu 新書 and Shiji 史記 are also attributed to Guan Zhong himself. The chapters Xinshu 心術, Baixin 白心 and Neiye 內業 have been written by disciples of Guan Zhong and adherents of his school, probably also by the philosophers Song Xing 宋銒 or Yin Wen 尹文.

There is a commentary on the Guanzi written by the Tang period 唐 (618-907) scholar Fang Xuanling 房玄齡 and the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Dai Wang 戴望 (Guanzi jiaozheng 管子校正). The modern standard commentary resuming all the previous, the Guanzi jijiao 管子集校 was written by Guo Moruo 郭沫若, Wen Yiduo 聞一多 and Xu Weiyu 許維遹.

The politician

Guan Zhong (d. 645 BCE), also called Yiwu 夷吾 or Jingzhong 敬仲, is said to have been a merchant in his early years although this might be a later defamation by Confucian writers. He early entered the political sphere of the state of Qi where he supported the Prince Jiu 糾 in the question of succession to the throne. When his contender, Prince Xiaobo 小白, won the struggle for the throne of dukedom the new ruler did away with enmity and employed Guan Zhong as one of his most ardent supporters. Guan Zhong was able to convince the duke that a reform in government structure would enable him to get rid of the powerful aristocracy clans. The realm was divided into regular administration units to be administered by a central bureaucracy subject directly to the duke. All over the country a professional standing army was set up. The population was divided into the four groups of officials (shi 士), peasants (nong 農), craftsmen (gong 工) and merchants (shang 商). This is the origin of the traditional Chinese classification of the population. The Confucians later attributed to those four groups moral values, officials and literari being the highest, merchants the morally lowest group. Guan Zhong had also improved the system of tax collection based on individual households instead of a collective of eight households. Through these measures Duke Huan was able to consolidate his own power not only within the state of Qi but far beyond. He became the first hegemonial lord (ba 霸) ruling over the states of the "middle kingdom" of China, overshadowing in power the kings of the ancient Zhou dynasty 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE), but without challenging them. The alliances the duke of Qi created defended the Chinese states against intruding barbarians from the north and northwest. Duke Huan of Qi as a hegemonial ruler thus protected and restalled the old order of the Zhou dynasty that had begun to fall into ruin. But on the other side he also swallowed smaller states within his orbit, like Tan 譚 and Sui 遂 and so initiated a tendency that led to the emergence of only a few large states out of a world of many smaller regional statelets.

The philosopher

In Guang Zhong's eyes, regulations could only be effective if the ruler also displayed a government of virtue (de fa 德法 "virtue and law") and acted as an educator of his people. The ruler was the most important person of the state, and everything should be done to strengthen his authority within the central government. The personal importance could only be secured by using both regulations and rituals. The most important supporter of the ruler was the people, and he therefore had to do everything that would make the people willingly serve their lord. This kind of relation is very similar to Confucian thought, according to which the people is the fundament of the state. The welfare of the people would contribute to the power of a state. A well-fed people could be governed easily and would have a sense for decency and etiquette. Rituals, righteousness, desistance from corruption, and a sense of shame were the four social guidelines (siwei 四維) of Guan Zhong's ideal state. A lord ruling such a state would be able to become a hegemonial lord.

In order to achieve these goals, a ruler had to care for economical prosperity of all social classes, from the officials to the merchants, the workers and down to the peasants. Unlike the legalists and the Confucians, Guan Zhong and his disciples did not make a difference between the morally high-standing peasants and the "wicked merchants". Trade was, in a rather mercantile way, seen as an important part of the national economy. A large part of the book Guanzi is related to measures strengthening the economy. Metaphysical discussion only make out a small part of the book. Water is, for example, seen as the basic element of all materials (chapter Shuidi), while in other parts of the Guanzi, pure ether (jingqi 精氣) is called the primary matter. Consciousness is born out of this pure ether. While this ether is granted by Heaven, the shape is given by the earth.

Yin and Yang 陰陽 are the catalysts in the process of creation. All objects and persons are endowed with a natural rule, the "way" (dao 道), and the goal of all humans must be to gear their life to the natural way. The dao described in the chapters Xinshu, Baixin and Neiye is very similar to that seen in the Daoist writings. The enlightened ruler following the way would govern virtually unconsciously, and his government would be one of natural coincidence with that what is perfect. Concerning the human nature, the authors of the Guan Zhong think that everybody seeks for his own best (li 利 "profit") and tries to avoid harm. Contrary to Confucius, Guan Zhong laid stress on the personal integrity of the ruler and his ministers, an aspect that, much later, the Confucian philosopher Mengzi 孟子 would attach importance to. The school of Guan Zhong has developed an integral picture of an ideal state and united the aspects of authority, economy, military and moral in one system.

There is a translation by T'an Po-fu and Wen Kung-wen; ed. Lewis Maverick (1954), Economic Dialogues in Ancient China: Selections from the Kuan-tzu, Carbondale: [no press], and Allyn W. Rickett (1965), Kuan-Tzu: A Repository of Early Chinese Thought, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Table 1. Contents of the Guanzi 管子
1. 牧民 Mumin On shepherding the people
2. 形勢 Xingshi On conditions and circumstances
3. 權修 Quanxiu On the cultivation of political power
4. 立政 Lizheng On overseeing the government
5. 乘馬 Chengma On military taxes
6. 七法 Qifa The seven standards
7. 版法 Banfa [Tablets inscribed with standards]
8. 幼官 Youguan [The office in charge of the youth]
9. 幼官圖 Youguan tu [Illustration of the "Office in charge of the youth"]
10. 五輔 Wufu The five aids
11. 宙合 Zhouhe The all-embracing unity
12. 樞言 Shuyan Cardinal sayings
13. 八觀 Baguan Eight observations
14. 法禁 Fajin On laws and prohibitions
15. 重令 Zhongling On the importance of orders
16. 法法 Fafa On conforming to the law
17. 兵法 Bingfa Methods of warfare
18. 匡君大匡 Kuangjun dakuang [Rectifications of the lord, first register]
19. 匡君中匡 Kuangjun zhongkuang [Rectifications of the lord, second register]
20. 匡君小匡 Kuangjun xiaokuang [Rectifications of the lord, third register]
21. 王言 Wangyan (lost)
22. 霸形 Baxing Conditions distinguishing a lord protector
23. 霸言 Bayan Conversations of the lord protector
24. 問 Wen Queries
25. 謀失 Moushi (lost)
26. 戒 Jie Admonitions
27. 地圖 Ditu On maps
28. 參患 Canhuan In consideration of evil consequences
29. 制分 Zhifen On ruling and the assignment of responsibilities
30.-31. 君臣 Junchen 1-2 The prince and his ministers
32. 小稱 Xiaocheng Minor appraisals
33. 四稱 Sicheng Four appraisals
34. 正言 Zhengyan (lost)
35. 侈靡 Chimi On extravagance in spending
36.-37. 心術 Xinshu 1-2 The art of the mind
38. 白心 Baixin Purifying the mind
39. 水地 Shuidi Water and earth
40. 四時 Sishi The four seasons
41. 五行 Wuxing Five Agents
42. 勢 Shi On paying attention to circumstances
43. 正 Zheng Rectification
44. 九變 Jiubian The nine alternatives
45. 任法 Renfa Reliance on law
46. 明法 Mingfa On making the law clear
47. 正世 Zhengshi Rectifying the age
48. 治國 Zhiguo Maintaining the state in good order
49. 內業 Neiye Inner workings
50. 封禪 Fengshan The feng and shan sacrifices to Heaven and Earth
51. 小問 Xiaowen Minor queries
52. 七主七臣 Qizhu qichen Seven ministers and Seven rulers
53. 禁藏 Jinzang On maintaining restraint
54. 入國 Ruguo On entering the capital
55. 九守 Jiushou Nine things to be preserved
56. 桓公問 Huangong wen Queries of Duke Huan
57. 度地 Dudi On appraising the terrain
58. 地{口/月} Diyuan Categories of land
59. 弟子職 Dizhizhi Duties of the student
60. 言昭 Yanzhao (lost)
61. 脩身 Xiushen (lost)
62. 問霸 Wenba (lost)
63. 牧民解 Mumin jie (lost)
64. 形勢解 Xingshi jie Explanation of the "Conditions and circumstances"
65. 立政九敗解 Lizheng jiubai jie Explanation to the "Nine ways to failure in overseeing the government"
66. 版法解 Banfa jie [Explanation to the "Tablets inscribed with standards"]
67. 明法解 Mingfa jie Explanation of the "Making the law clear"
68. 臣乘馬 Chenchengma [Service of the fiscal management]
69. 乘馬數 Chengmashu The art of fiscal management
70. 問乘馬 Wenchengma (lost)
71. 事語 Shiyu Discourse on economic matters
72. 海王 Haiwang Kingship based on the sea
73. 國蓄 Guochu The state's store of grain
74. 山國軌 Shanguogui Using statistics to control state finances
75. 山權數 Shanquanshu Methods for coping with change
76. 山至數 Shanzhishu The best methods for insuring fiscal control
77. 地數 Dishu Methods for exploiting the earth
78. 揆度 Kuidu Calculations and measures
79. 國准 Guozhun Maintinging stability in state finances
80.-86. 輕重 Qingzhong 1-7 Economic policies (lost: 3 and 7)
Chen Sheng 陳升 (1996). "Guan Zhong xuepai 管仲學派", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, ed. Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 961.
Qiao Changlu 喬長路 (1987). "Guanzi 管子", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 266.
Qiao Changlu 喬長路, Zhu Yiting 朱貽庭 (1987). "Guan Zhong 管仲", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 266.
Rickett, W. Allyn (1993). "Kuan tzu", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China/Institute of East Asian Studies), 244-251.
Xu Dunkang 徐敦康 (1992). "Guanzi 管子", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 273.
Ying Yongshen 應永深 (1992). "Guan Zhong 管仲", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 273.